Does Genesis teach the subordination of women? (Gen 2:18-25; 3:16) Women-Injustice#5; Justice#16

Does Genesis teach the subordination of women? (Gen 2:18-25; 3:16) Women-Injustice#5; Justice#16 May 12, 2021

There is little question that in the account of the creation of humanity in Gen 1:26-27 all persons—even specifying “male and female”—are made in the image of God and are created to “rule” and “subdue” (Gen 1:26, 28). Male and female are equally fashioned to serve as kings/queens and priests within God’s creation.

Yet, it is not uncommon for complementarians to argue that the account of the formation of Eve (Gen 2:18-25) indicates male superiority.

Eve the “helper” of Adam: Does Gen 2:18 imply that Eve is subordinate to Adam? 

Some of those who affirm male headship (complementarians) point to Gen 2:18, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him,” as evidence for the subordination of women. The allegation is, as one complementarian claims, “The word for ‘helper’ (ezer) suggests one who will play a subordinate role in some sense.”[1]

A closer look at Gen 2:18 rejects the notion that Adam was superior to Eve in role and authority.

 For one, it is critical to be reminded of the revolutionary nature of the biblical creation account.[2] The mention of “male and female” in Gen 1:26-27 and the account of the formation of Eve from Adam in Gen 2:18-25 testifies to the highly elevated role of women in the Bible. In fact, that the biblical account includes the formation of “female” alongside “male” (Gen 1:27) was extraordinary for the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) world.

Secondly, the designation of Eve as a “helper” (ezer), does not imply inferiority as complementarians contend. If anything, its presence could be used to contend that Eve was superior to Adam. This is due to the fact that most occurrences of this word in the Old Testament describe God’s (Yahweh’s) relationship to Israel.[3] That’s right, the word is used more often for God than anyone or anything else! God is Israel’s helper!

But we know that God is the helper of Israel because He is stronger than Israel not because He is inferior.

The use of “helper” (ezer) in Psalm 115:9-11 demonstrates God’s role as Israel’s helper:

O Israel, trust in the Lord;

He is their help and their shield.

O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord;

He is their help and their shield.

You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord;

He is their help and their shield.

In light of the use of “helper” (ezer) to depict God’s relationship to His people, one might wish to contend that ezer indicates the presence of a stronger person who comes to the assistance of a lesser. In the instance of Gen 2:18, Eve would be the stronger person coming to the aid of Adam who was in need.

Ironically, if we only had Gen 2:18-25, we might conclude that Eve was the superior who was coming in to rescue the weaker Adam—as God did for Israel. Since, however, the equality between male and female was established in Gen 1:26-27, there appears to be no reason to assert that Eve is superior to Adam. There is, of course, certainly no basis for asserting that Adam is superior to Eve based on Gen 2:18.

Male headship after the fall?

A far more common approach of complementarians is to contend that God established male headship and female subordination as a result of the Fall. (This is certainly the conviction that I held for many years).

Before we examine the text of Gen 3:16, it must be noted that I have already provided a general response to this argument in my last post.

There I noted that as Christians we are living in the era after the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. This means that God is already in the process of restoring His creation.

It is the new creation that we are called to begin implementing in the present life of God’s people.

In other words, even if we assume that God established male supremacy as a result of the Fall (which I will contend is not a correct reading of Genesis 3), as Christians we are not to live by the consequences of the Fall, but in line with the inauguration of the kingdom of God.

And in the kingdom of God, there is equality between all persons—Jew and gentile, slave and free, male and female (Gal 3:28).

Doesn’t Genesis 3 affirm that women will “desire” for their husbands and that husbands will “rule” over their wives?

The appeal for male headship as a result of the Fall is made from Gen 3:16:

“To the woman He said, . . . ‘Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you’” (Gen 3:16).

This verse, it is suggested, contends that God established male rulership after the Fall. One complementarian argues, “God gives the woman up to a desire to have her way with her husband. Because she usurped his headship in the temptation, God hands her over to the misery of competition with her rightful head.”[4]

That this is a misreading of Gen 3:16—which has led to some of the tragic consequences that I detailed in previous posts—is evidenced by the following.

  • First, the suggestion that “roles” (i.e., male headship and female subordination) were introduced, or affirmed, by God at the Fall fails to account for the fact that Gen 3:16 is part of the curse.

God is not saying, “sorry ladies, but because you did this, I am now going to demand that men rule over women.” Instead, God is declaring, “the result is now that men will attempt to rule over you in a domineering way.” God is not sanctioning this action. He is telling Eve that as a consequence of sin this is how it is going to be.

  • Secondly, Gen 3:16 is not stating that women will “desire” their husbands as subordinates. Instead, in accord with the context of the curse, when Gen 3:16 states that her “desire will be for your husband,” it is affirming that women will actually desire to rule over men.

In other words, Gen 3:16 is stating that as a result of the Fall, though women will “desire” to rule in their relationship with men, instead men will rule in a domineering way (see below) over women. Allow me to elaborate more fully.

What does it mean that Eve will “desire” her husband and that he will “rule” over her?

The Hebrew word for desire (teshuqah) appears in only two other places in the entire OT (cf Gen 4:7; Song of Sol 7:10). The fact that two of the three uses of this word are within the span of fifteen verses (Gen 3:16 and 4:7), however, helps to provide some insight as to what this word may mean in Genesis.

In Gen 4:6-7, after Cain murders his brother, God says to him, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” The meaning of “desire” (teshuqah) in Gen 4:7 appears fairly clear. Sin’s “desire” was to master or dominate Cain.

There are good reasons to conclude that “desire” (teshuqah) has a similar meaning in Gen 3:16.

  • First, there is the contextual similarity between the two passages. In both Gen 3:16 and 4:7, “desire” (teshuqah) is used to relay the effects of sin.
  • Secondly, there is the fact that the words occur in such close proximity to one another. Since the word means “to dominate or master” in Gen 4:7, then, in light of the contextual similarity between Gen 3:16 and 4:7, we appear to be on good footing when we conclude that the word likely has a similar meaning in both passages.

Consequently, if “desire” (teshuqah), indicates sin’s yearning to dominate Cain in Gen 4:7, then is stands to reason that the meaning in Gen 3:16 relates to the woman’s desire to rule over the man. This meaning is reflected in the NLT of Gen 3:16: “And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”

This understanding of desire (teshuqah) also accords with the use of “rule” (masal) in Gen 3:16, which indicates that the husband will rule as a tyrant.

This suggests that Gen 3:16 means that, though the woman will desire to dominate the man, she will instead be dominated by him. This conclusion is supported by the context which is relaying the negative effects of sin into human relationships.

In sum, Gen 3:16 is setting forth the consequence of sin. One of the effects of sin, is the conflict between male and female. Women will desire to rule over men, but it will be the men who rule—in a domineering fashion—over women.

Thus, if God were establishing male headship in this passage (as argued by complementarians), then He would be putting a tyrant in power over the women.


In my next post, I will contend that Paul reads Gen 3:16 in light of the New Creation in Colossians 3.


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[1] Blomberg, “Women in Ministry: A Complementarian Perspective” in Two Views, 131.

[2] I will address this further in an upcoming post

[3] See for example: Exod 18:4; Deut 33:7, 26, 29; Ps 33:20; 115:9-11.

[4] Ortlund, “Male-Female,” 109. Note that Ortlund actually affirms that male headship existed before the fall.

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